Indian police shell protesting farmers with tear gas

Demonstrators demanding higher prices for their crops, backed by law

Indian farmers cover their faces and put on glasses to protect their eyes from tear gas fired by police on the state border of Punjab and Haryana. AFP
Powered by automated translation

Indian police fired tear gas and rubber bullets at protesting farmers to prevent them from marching in Delhi on Wednesday.

The farmers were intent on marching on the Indian capital to pile pressure Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government to meet their demands for guaranteed minimum prices for their crops.

Last week, farmers from Punjab and Haryana, the states responsible for 60 per cent of India's wheat production, started their journey to New Delhi on foot and by tractors. However, they were halted about 200km from their destination by road blockades erected by police and paramilitary forces.

The farmers waited while representatives held talks with the government but decided to press on with their march after a meeting on Monday ended without agreement on their main demand of minimum support prices for their crops.

Braving the cold and rain, farmers wearing gas masks, medical masks and goggles stood on a bridge over the Ghaggar river on Wednesday morning and prepared to push through barricades.

The bridge is on a motorway that passes from Punjab through Haryana, ruled by Mr Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party, to Delhi.

The motorway was blocked when farmers from the two states launched a sit-in in 2020 after they were stopped from entering Delhi to protest.

Authorities brought in more than 700 more security personnel and dug trenches to prevent the farmers moving forward. Internet and SMS services were cut off in Haryana.

Police fired tear gas shells at the protesters to discourage them from moving forward and even used drones to drop tear gas canisters.

TV pictures showed farmers using water pipes, stones and slingshots to take down drones. Several farmers ran into fields to escape the stinging gas and smoke from tear gas shells.

“We are not scared of the authorities. Last time, we protested for a year. This time around, if they don’t fulfil our demands, we will spend our entire lives here protesting for our rights,” Jaspreet Singh, a farmer from Punjab, told The National.

“We have all the preparations in place to go through the barricade and we still appeal to the government to not use force against us and allow us to go to Delhi which is our constitutional right,” said Manjeet Singh, another farmer.

Agriculture Minister Arjun Munda on Wednesday offered a new round of talks with agricultural leaders.

Farming leaders, however, said they would decide on the merit of government talks after holding internal discussions.

“They have been attacking our youth who are peacefully protesting,” farmers' leader Sarwan Singh Pandher said. "We cannot hold talks when there are attacks on us."

Farming representatives and the government have held four rounds of talks. All have failed, with farmers rejecting a government offer to buy pulses, maize and cotton at guaranteed prices through co-operatives for five years, saying they want minimum support prices for 23 different crops.

The protest has already caused disruption in Delhi, with long traffic jams at entry points to the city where police and paramilitary forces have been posted.

A tractor rally was also launched in Greater Noida, a satellite city outside Delhi, in solidarity with the protests in Haryana and Punjab. Farmers also rallied outside the residence of chief minister Bhajan Lal Sharma in the neighbouring state of Rajasthan.

Updated: February 21, 2024, 1:23 PM